Costco, one of the nation’s leading retail warehouse chains, stands accused of sex discrimination. The Glenview Announcements reports that a lawsuit filed in Chicago this week accuses Costco of creating a sexually hostile work environment.
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“Be Friendly” to the Stalker
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Costco violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to protect a female employee from “unwelcome advances” from a customer. The female employee was “pursued, approached and confronted in the Costco by the [male customer].” She repeatedly complained to her managers about the situation, and even wound up obtaining an order of protection against the customer. One of her managers agreed with her that the situation was not right, and agreed that Costco would monitor the situation. But according to John Rowe, the EEOC’s Chicago district director, “what actually happened was that when the situation persisted and the employee complained to the police, Costco management allegedly yelled at her and told her to be friendly to the customer.”
“No employer gets a pass. . .”
In an EEOC press release, a regional attorney named John Hendrickson explained the reason for the suit, saying, “All employers have a duty to protect employees from sexual harassment whatever form that harassment may take – whether it’s lewd remarks, groping, propositioning or stalking. No employer gets a pass because its a customer targeting its employee, rather than a manager or fellow employee. That’s particularly true when the harassment is especially egregious. If the employer permits the harassment to continue, it’s compounding its liability and troubles.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The basis of the lawsuit is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That federal law protects employees from discrimination based on sex, including sexual harassment. One type of sexual harassment under the law is what is known as “hostile work environment” harassment. Despite some popular opinion, this law does not make it possible for employees to sue their company over any minor perceived slight. Instead, to sue under this law, the harassment must be severe and persistent, as this female employee claims it was. Had the stalker only shown up once at Costco, or had he only shown up and not said or done anything, she likely would not have been able to bring a suit. But the severe and persistent harassment, coupled with Costco’s alleged reaction, is what paved the way for a suit.
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